Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How We Love Now: Don Jon and Her

 It’s time to say goodbye to old-fashioned ideas about love. Gone are the days when society deemed love acceptable only when it ended in marriage and procreation. Finding a partner is becoming a far more tailored affair. Not too long ago (and still prevailing in some cases) the idea of two people of the same gender falling in love was deemed wrong simply because it didn’t end in procreation.

Nowadays, the family unit has become a different thing. Women have entered the workforce, resulting in an enormous upheaval in the way society as a whole works. The family unit is not the only structure that shapes our lives anymore. It’s a fact - for better or worse. And I’m certainly not decrying the shake-up of the traditional family structure. It’s fine. Whatever works! But it does beg the question, if we’re not falling in love because we are socially conditioned to, then why do we? And with the male-female dynamic in society so monumentally altered, where does that leave men? 

Two recent films have raised this very issue. Both take a look at the changing world and also how our increasing reliance on the internet as a social tool can give us a warped view of who we and more importantly who other people, are.

Don Jon was received with a lukewarm shrug as it swaggered on to our screens last year. Marketed as a bit of a lads flick, or a rom-com, neither of which were accurate, there is undeniably an air of smugness about this film that could potentially make it difficult to like. However, this film, more than any other film I saw last year, has stayed with me. Possibly only due to my frustration at the lacklustre reception but I feel it needs defending.

Don Jon introduces us to a typical douchebag Jon and his douchebag friends. Jon takes pride in his pad, his ride, his girls, gym, his family and his church. He likes things to be perfect, he takes care of himself and he judges everybody else by his own high standards. When he meets Barbara (Scarlett Johanssen) she is “a ten”. Beautiful, no-nonsense, ready to whip him into shape and make him man enough for her to marry and build a life with. She sends him back to college to better himself and lays the ground rules about internet porn. Here’s the thing. Jon likes porn better than sex. Less hassle to whack one out to a video than the real thing. Women look better on camera than flat on their backs anyway, right?

As we wait for this rom-com to predictably see them break down at his weaknesses then regroup because he realises the error of his ways, something strange happens. Jon realises that he doesn’t need her and decides to get to know himself better and become comfortable with who he is before trying to allow a woman to decide what’s best for him.

Not since Fight Club has there been a film that discusses masculism and the crisis of modern masculinity in such depth.

Jon is a man, like so many others, who doesn’t know his place in the world and starts to ask himself questions about what it means to be a man. As a result of these questions, he engages in a relationship with Julianne Moore who teaches him something nobody ever really bothered to before. Sex is about love. About emotional connection. Otherwise it’s just mutual masturbation. 

Joseph Gordon Levitt has crafted a film here which discusses the place of the modern man in today’s shaken up society. In all the ways that for years films and music and books have screamed at women that they need to love themselves and not allow a man to become the centre of their world and to be who they are, etc, this is a film that allows men that indulgence. Don’t always feel pressure to “man up”, to prove yourself. Learn to love yourself and let go of your vanities and those walls and figure out what works for you!

A small but vital part of Jon’s character which is never addressed is his tendency toward obsessive compulsive behaviour. Though it is never driven home, Jon’s penchant for extreme neatness and routine and perfection does indicate some mental health issues. Not to mention issues of Catholic guilt and pressures to conform to traditional family values that stem from his family.

The softer, warmer Jon we see towards the end of the film is a man who is happy being himself and who has figured out how to love; by letting yourelf indiscriminately care for someone.

Another film that looks at the way in which love is changing is Spike Jonze’s delightful oddity Her. Set in a not too distant future where hipsters have seemingly taken over the planet, Her tells the story of lonely Theodore Twombley (an extraordinary Joaquin Phoenix), recently separated from a wife he adores and employed as a proxy writer of love letters, the online equivalent of a Cyrano De Bergerac. A hopeless romantic and a man in dire need of connection, Theodore sets up the new operating system on his phone, a kind of Siri idea, a very connected, very sophisticated artificial intelligence that exudes warmth, curiosity and humour not previously found in an OS. Over time, and they show us this in excruciating detail, allowing us time to see that this is a genuine love affair and not some perversion, we see Theodore and Sam slowly become genuine companions, laughing together, being kind to each other, helping each other grow, all the things one could ever want in a real relationship. They are in love.

Spike Jonze is asking us the question, in this day and age when social pressures are gone and we are left with nobody to please but ourselves, can we indulge such companionships? What does artifical mean anyway when technology is so advanced. Spike Jonze is a forward thinker, leaving us room to entertain the questions and ideas being presented in a non judgmental fashion. This is not science fiction. This is romance, pure and simple.

The end of the film doesn’t leave us with any simple answers either. Jonze is forcing us to look at ourselves and what we want in life and from relationships and question the time we spend with our computer each day. To my mind though, he’ not lecturing us. He is asking us to think about it.

Both films are doing a straight-forward thing. They are showing a man’s journey through love: both completely opposite men. One a brazen man-child, the other an old-fashioned romantic. But their journeys are similar. Jon’s is certainly more fulfilling than Theodore’s. In fact, it’s probably more accurate to say Theodore doesn’t go on a journey, we do.

It’s about time we start to think about how the world is changing. There are still people getting married, having babies and buying houses in the suburbs but more and more, the traditional two-parent one bread-winner pattern is being upended. So, if not out of habit or out of necessity, why do we fall in love? Why do we marry? Now that the working world is becoming more of an equal playing field how does this affect the male-female dymanic in society?

What does it mean to be a man? Fight Club discusses this in a very extreme way. Edward Norton’s “Narrator” is a ghost in a world that doesn‘t know what to do with him. Jon in Don Jon has built a world of which he is very definitely a part, but he has built it out of habit and he is only now asking what he really wants.  Theodore is a man who needs a companion to feel complete. He is finding new ways to love in the absence of a physical companion. Again, if we’re not coming together to make babies then what is it that we REALLY want?

Two films that ask questions as a form of comment but in a completely non-judgmental fashion; Don Jon and Her are first and foremost character studies. They present us with very well realised men with very well thought out neuroses and psychological nuances. Perhaps these filmmakers aren’t the male equivalent of The Spice Girls yelling “Girl Power” but they are a call to action to men to look at themselves and know that you don’t’ have to  be your father, you just have to be yourelf.

My Favourite Films of 2013

It was agonising to cut this list down to ten from an original list of thirty-five brilliant films. I've changed my mind a hundred times and no doubt I'll change it again. I tried and failed to put this list in some kind of order but I jut couldn't figure it out so let's just enjoy each film for it's own merits and not worry about choosing favourites.

Django Unchained
Quentin Tarantino has olways been admired as an audacious filmmaker, sometimes deservedly, but more often than not (in my opinion) he is just being violent/flashy/weird/bad/controverial/obnoxious. To me, Django Unchained is his first really important work since Pulp Fiction. While it is similar in tone to Inglorious Basterds, I thought that film felt kind of phony whereas this film really had something to say. While it was just as flashy and obnoxiously aggressive as his other films, Django took a rather mature look at the complicated mess that was slavery in America in the 19th Century. Samuel L Jackson's character of Steven was probably the most important character in cinema this year. You have to hand it to him, not many filmmakers would have the balls to present a character like that to the world. Fair play!

The Place Beyond The Pines
It was a love it or loathe it kind of film and it seemed to me that the balance lay in your opinion of the third act. Many felt the final act of the film was a bit meandering but in my opinion it was what made it special.  All three layers of the plot worked for me. The story was woven together so beautifully and the crisis of masculinity, in the form of fathers and sons was laid bare for all to see in the most lovely, poetic way. Now, I'm certainly not a fan of Ryan Gosling. I'm one of the few ladies who just doesn't get it but I have to say he was utterly magnetic as the dumb, down on his luck biker. Likewise, Bradley Cooper was magnificent as a cop struggling with his sense of morality. A truly unique film, Derek Cianfrance knocked it out of the park with his second feature. Can't wait to see what he does next.

Iron Man 3
Finally! A comic book movie that really did it right. Hilarious, emotional, clever and full of great action sequences, Iron Man 3 brought this franchise back in a big way! Feeling very much like vintage Shane Black, RDJ is as charming as ever and it goes to show that the answer to a great blockbuster lies very much in having a whopper script! Best Marvel film ever.

A Hijacking
Although A Hijacking was outshone by another excellent high seas pirate movie, Captain Phillips, it was by far the better of the two films. Written and directed by Tobias Lindholm, writer of last year's The Hunt, A Hijacking spends half its time on the boat and half its time in the boardroom with the corporation who is negotiating with the pirates. Completely non-judgmental of the negotiators yet pointing out the very clear differences between classes, this gut-wrenchingly tense drama left me in tatters with a subtly brilliant final shot that really hit home the films central thesis.

The Kings of Summer
Again, a film that was overshadowed by another similar film, The Kings of Summer unfortunately fell under the shadow of Jim Rash and Nat Faxon's inferior The Way Way Back and the also excellent Mud from Jeff Nichols. But it was The Kings of Summer for me by a mile. The sense of effortlessness that this films easy charm portrays is doubly incredible given that this is a first time director, Jordon Vogt-Roberts. The young cast are amazing and the film manages to make the "McLovin"-esque weird kid utterly believable and not even annoying! Everything about this little film worked for me. It had a sense of wonder and passion that is rarely captured by films about kids and made me long for those lazy, hazy days and hope against hope that there are young men like these out there somewhere. A true snowflake of a movie.

I'm the very one who is constantly banging on about pointless remakes and on paper a remake of William Lustig's grind-house masterpiece is about as pointless as they come. But on screen Franck Khalfoun has created something quite lovely. Contemporary and different from the original in all the ways it needs to be, Maniac, sees a very likeable Elijah Wood stalk the streets of L.A. scalping young women and making mannequins of them. How is that likeable you ask? Well, therein lies the alchemy at work in this film. Elijah Wood's doe-like face make you want to mother him and hope that he'll find a better path. Of course, that's not going to happen and therefore the film gives you an emotional "in" that is rarely found in horror. Also, the music and cinematography are as handsome a you'll find anywhere this year.

Blue Jasmine
When he's great, he's great. And this time, he's REALLY great! Woody Allen hasn't made anything this good since the 80's and this modernised Streetcar is both funny, insightful and packs a serious emotional punch in the form as the ever-fading Jasmine, played splendidly by Cate Blanchett. The final scene on the park bench is worth your tenner alone. 

This truly magnificent thriller from Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve is a sad dissection of the ways in which we (often badly) deal with pain. The title ties the films themes together so nicely that it almost makes it's theses sound simple. But they're not. This is a complex look at the evil that men do and the places that these evils come from. They're not from a god or a devil, they're from pain. I wouldn't call it anti-religion but it is certainly dismissive of ideas that anyone is responsible for your actions except yourself. Jake Gyllenhaal, Hugh Jackman and the rest of the cast play a stormer here with material that must be the stuff of wet dreams for actors. And Roger Deakins does a phenomenal job as per usual.

Short Term 12
Brie Larson...where did you COME FROM? Hands down, breakout of the year! This very simple tale of lovely young people who work in a home for young tearaway teenagers is surprisingly fantastic. Mostly due to the central performance by a heartbreaking Brie Larson who plays an intelligent and resourceful care-worker whose own tragic issues bubble under the surface. I know, I know, this doesn't sound great but really it is. 

Don Jon
I know this wasn't exactly revered upon release. I wasn't too sure about it myself the first time I watched it. I liked it, thought it was charming and interesting but on second viewing I really thought there was some phenomenal stuff going on with this film. A film about connections and expectations and what it means to be a man. I'd go so far as to say there hasn't been a discussion this deep about modern masculinity since Fight Club. Some have accused the film of being shallow and accused it's central character Jon of being a cartoon. And he is. But he's only a cartoon until he starts to become an actual person. Quite clever script-writing actually I think.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Interview with Jesse Eisenberg for Now You See Me

It's rare that I come in contact with a genuine movie star, and even more rare that it's one that admire as much as I admire Jesse Eisenberg. Along with giving one of my all-time favourite performances in what will probably be my favourite film of the decade, The Social Network I'm also fascinated by any interviews I have read/watched with him. He always comes across clever and interesting, but intolerant of nonsense.

My fears of igniting his temper aside, when the opportunity presented itself to interview Jesse, I just couldn't resist. As it turns out my interviewing skills are pretty rusty but it's still a pretty delightful interview.

Originally published on 4/7/2013 on Film Ireland

 - Charlene Lydon

Monday, March 11, 2013

OZ, The Great and Powerful

Written By: Mitchell Kapner, David Lindsay Abair
Directed By: Sam Raimi
Starring: James Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz
Rating: 7/10

I have to admit, I have a soft spot for the merry ol’ land of Oz, so off I went in my sparkly red shoes (egg on my face though, cos there wan’t a ruby slipper to be seen in Raimi’s version) to a Sunday morning family screening of Oz The Great and Powerful.

Raimi’s film is essentially the origin story for the wonderful wizard. Oz (Franco) is a selfish circus con-man whose tendency towards smoke and mirrors has left him devoid of any real sense of self. Like Dorothy, he is swept away in a cyclone and transported to a strange and magical world where he is soon recognised as the man who is destined to rule all of Oz. In order to gain the throne and a room full of gold, he must convince them, and himself, that he’s the man they need him to be

Knowing Sam Raimi and his tendency towards playfulness I was unsurprised but no less delighted to see him open his film with 4:3 monochrome, where it stayed until we enter Oz, where he then revealed in all its 3D glory, all the beauty and spectacle we would hope to see in Oz.

The plot sees  three witches struggling for power over Oz (the place AND the man), one is beautiful, naïve Theodora (Kunis) who falls in love with Oz as she leads him to meet her sister Evanora so they can plot to kill the wicked witch who has been banished to the woods but they suspect to be planning an uprising. But things get complicated when he finds the “wicked witch” and she turns out to be the beautiful, wise and good Glinda The Good.

The production design, CGI effects and cinematography are absolutely beautiful throughout the film, which instantly removed the slight alarm bell of cynicism that might have existed in me around this project. But it’s clear from the outset that love and passion went into the aesthetic of this film. Special mention must go to Gary Jones for the unbelievably beautiful costume design. All the actors seem to be having a blast camping it up in their roles (does Franco ever really do anything else?) and it’s especially nice to see Michelle Williams in a happy film for once.

At almost two and a half hours, I couldn’t help but feel that the thin plot didn’t really warrant the lengthy running time, but having said that I absolutely adored so many aspects of the film that I never really wanted it to end. Raimi’s stamp is all over the film in the most wonderful ways! His flying cameras, his sharp visual wit and not to mention his horrifying witch and flying baboons, there’s plenty on display here to keep his fans happy. But what about the most important audience of all? The children. What’s in it for them? Magic, a cute monkey, a lovely little china doll, action, scary villains and most of all a wonderful sense of what epic 3D cinema should be. Big! From where I was sitting (which was surrounded by hundreds of children) they seemed very, very pleased with themselves. One thing it is missing though – singin’ and dancin’;  but I guess I can’t have it all.

 - Originally published in Film Ireland: http://filmireland.net/2013/03/09/cinema-review-oz-the-great-and-powerful/

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Rundown of Horror Films in 2012

Here's another little project I worked on this New Year's Eve. Another guest spot on the Under Your Bed podcast, this time discussing the best horror films of the past year.

I think both Bren and I agree that Cabin In The Woods is the year's best but we also discuss Grabbers, Sinister, Sightseers, Excision, Killer Joe and many other wonderful films. Enjoy! And check out the rest of the Under Your Bed podcasts. They're superb.


My Favourite Films of 2012

1. Beasts of the Southern Wild
My top three are pretty much a tie, but Beasts pips the others to the post because of its sheer boldness and the fact that it is a startling debut that came out of nowhere. This odd little film could just as easily have been terrible but with it's delicate blend of beauty, sadness and joy, Benh Zeitlin has brought us one of the most perfect films in recent memory. All of the facets of this strange world fit together beautifully, not least of which is the power of the lead actress Quvenzhané Wallis, who jumped into first place in my favourite child performance of all time (replacing Patty McCormack in The Bad Seed) chart. At the end of the day I have a feeling that this film, it’s fine performances and it’s bloody marvellous soundtrack will stay with me for a long, long time. See below for a sample of the beautiful soundtrack.

2. Killing Them Softly
His CV might be short but it is flawless. Andrew Dominik has made only three films, Chopper, The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford and now Killing Them Softly and his films just keep getting better and better. Receiving unfathomable mixed reviews upon its release, it seems that the films’ bleak economic backdrop might have been too on the nose for many but I found it refreshing to see America in such a stark light. I dare say that for future generations this will be the seminal film of this chapter of America’s history. A superb ensemble cast, a frankly stunning script and an atmosphere that chills to the bone. I’d pay good money for a spin-off following the exploits of Ben Mendelsohn and Scoot McNairy’s characters.

3. Killer Joe
As much as I loved Killer Joe I have to say I was pleasantly surprised to see how many other people did too. One of the most uncomfortable viewing experiences of my life, I was convinced that surely it was only my sick brain that could be so seduced by this trashy, unpleasant, nasty and vicious story. But no, other people are just as sick, it seems. In one fell swoop Matthew McConaughey’s name on a poster went from being the biggest turn-off to being the biggest incentive to see a film. His performance is unlike anything I have ever seen onscreen. I actually can’t even begin to compare it to something else. So slimy, so sleazy, so wise, so strangely sympathetic. Yurck! He leaves you wanting a shower with brillo pads. But I can’t help but allow my heart leap at that final shot. What is wrong with me???

4. Argo
Ben Affleck has proven himself to be a wonderful filmmaker already but Argo is the one that has catapulted him to the top of the Most Wanted list. This tight, tense hostage drama is very much a Hollywood picture but it is certainly more of the Sidney Lumet calibre. Some were let down by its (presumably) exaggerated airport chase-scene finale but personally I enjoyed and respected the fact that it was wearing it’s “Hollywood” on its sleeve and at the end of the day it had fun with its own cinematic knowledge. Kudos to Affleck who also managed to balance the sober and the absurd quite beautifully.

5. What Richard Did
Ok, this one is a little bit close to my heart as I worked on the film at script stage when I worked in script development and watched it grow into a real film. I saw its rough cuts, final cuts and poster mock-ups right up until, now a cinema programmer, I got to see it screened in my own cinema! What a thrill! Especially since the world LOVES this film almost as much as I do. Written by my good friend Malcolm Campbell and directed by another friend and constant inspiration Lenny Abrahamson this is a remarkably restrained, uniquely Irish, yet strangely universal story of a young over-achiever who makes a fatal mistake and must deal with the repercussions. I didn’t want to put it at the top of my list because that just seems like favouritism so I put it slap, bang in the middle so it’s all perfectly fair…dodgy logic. Take my word for it, it’s haunting, it’s brilliant and it’s the greatest Irish film of all time.


6. The Raid
This was the year that I started to appreciate Asian fightin' flicks. And it's all thanks to Gareth Evan's rambunctious, bloody, ridiculously well-made action film, The Raid. From the time I saw the brilliant trailer back in September 2011 I had a feeling this was going to be the one to convince me that there is something to be enjoyed in that genre. I was right. I was pretty sure I could only be disappointed and that the film couldn't possibly live up to the trailer but every lovingly crafted move, every brilliantly economical shot and every beat of the superb score allayed my fears immediately. To be fair, the 11am JDIFF screening of the film will go down as one of the most electric and lively two-hours of cinema-watching in Dublin's history so I definitely saw it in the right environment. But I've seen it twice since then and it's still wonderful. The simplicity of the plot, the videogame structure, the quiet intensity of lead actor Iko Uwais, it all adds up to slick action-packed fun!

7. Cabin In The Woods
I make no secret of my adoration of Joss Whedon and his weird and wonderful way of getting around pop culture in a way that nobody else can. I found myself underwhelmed by Avengers Assemble (sorry!) so The Cabin In The Woods is my Whedon flick of the year. He didn’t direct it but he co-wrote it with telly scribe extraordinaire Drew Goddard and in fairness the film has Whedon’s stamp all over it. A stroll (or manic turbo zoom) through horror cinema history, this film lovingly plays with and subverts pretty much every genre cliché in the book and gives us one of the most memorable, funny, sometimes scary and just plain classy postmodern films of our time. And no, I don’t think that’s hyperbolic (but maybe it is). It rubbed many up the wrong way as being too clever for its own good or for being too silly but it’s just pure Buffy, plain and simple. If you’re on board, it’s genius, if you’re not, it’s silly fluff. I’ve been having this argument my whole adult life.

8. Magic Mike
This one was (logically) marketed as a glamorous stripper movie with fit actors with their pecs out. I can see why that was necessary but it’s a shame this films wasn’t given a broader appeal to the arthouse crowd because it really is utterly fantastic. Not only am I now sold on Channing Tatum being an incredible actor (this, coupled with a brilliant turn in 21 Jump Street, the best comedy blockbuster of the year by far) but it also gave McConaughey (My Man of the Year by a mile) another chance to shine as gross, slimy club owner Dallas. Steven Soderbergh may seem like an odd choice to direct this film but his temperate direction but lack of restraint in showing the boys doing what they do best keeps the film on the fine line between garish and heartfelt. Brilliant. Also see below for Oscar-eligible song from my man of the year Matthew McConaughey...

9. Take This Waltz
I am definitely in the minority on this and maybe it has something to do with being a young person in a very long-term relationship or maybe it’s to do with having lived at Dufferin and Bloor in Toronto and allowing Sarah Polley to remind me of beautiful evening strolls along College to the gorgeous bars and restaurants of the area. Whatever the reason, something about Take This Waltz struck a chord with me. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a relationship breakdown handled in such a mature, realistic and often ugly way. Michelle Williams' unsettled wife gives in to temptation after a long flirtation with an annoying hipster neighbour. As we watch the story unfold, it is difficult to remain on anyone's side. They are all behaving stupidly and nobody is doing the right thing and you just want to punch everyone by the end of the second act. But by the end of the third act, it becomes clear just how clever a storyteller Sarah Polley is. Gorgeously put together, brilliantly performed and just beautiful overall, I found Take This Waltz absolutely irresistible.

10. Looper
Of all of this year's big action blockbusters, this one has to take the biscuit not only for being absolutely cool on every single level, but it also has the privilege of being the only one that is completely original. I loved the story, I love Rian Johnson's style and I love the entire cast. Can't argue with that. My one and only gripe is JGL's ridiculous facial prosthetics. Distracting and unnecessary. Everything else was spot on. And extra points for Garret Dillahunt!

11. Lawless
I have a weakness for gritty violence. There - I said it. I was never going to dislike Lawless. It would go against everything I am. People weren't keen on it for some reason but I thought it was superb! Brilliant performances (yes, I even liked OTT Guy Pearce), interesting world, great pacing and a fantastic finale shoot-out. It goes without saying though, that Tom Hardy was by far the absolute star of the piece. Hardy, and Emmylou Harris singing Nick Cave-penned tunes. It undoubtedly tops my soundtrack of the year list (or maybe ties with Beasts).

12. The Descendants
Clooney, Payne, Hawaii. Enough has been said about this film throughout the year. I just want to acknowledge the tenderness, care and humour that came through in this screenplay, a deserving winner of the Best Screenplay Oscar. Absolutely wonderful. And Clooney has never been better. The complications, stress, fear and sadness of having a loved one in a hospital bed indefinitely is portrayed here with grace and humour with a superb cast, interesting subplots and terrific direction allowing the film to go down the typical weepie route. 

Oh...and my beloved Jim Rash did THIS during his Oscar acceptance speech.

Honorary Mentions

** EDIT: Oh my God I can't believe I forgot Moonrise Kingdom...I just re-watched it two days ago. It's truly lovely!

Holy Motors - a weird and wonderful fairytale from director Leos Carax and featuring an incredible central performance from Denis Lavant
21 Jump Street - a surprisingly witty and clever action comedy. 
The Hunger Games - Forget your Batmen and Spidermen and Iron Men, this was where it was at for me this year as far as action blackbuster franchises go. Clever, competent and featuring a truly inspirational heroine. 
The Artist - I almost forgot this was 2012. Beautiful film.
Sightseers - It kills me that I didn't fit this into the main list but I didn't have room for everything. Hilarious, unique and lovely! Ben, Alice and Steve are brilliant!
Grabbers - Irish writer Kevin Lehane delivers a sharp, clever and never patronising (despite it's unapologetic OIrishness) monster comedy. Superb! And Ruth Bradley plays a brilliant drunk!
Silence - Hypnotic, beautiful and refective. Pat Collins' film is the third Irish film on the list and probably deserves to be higher. Remarkable. If you missed it in the cinema, you can watch it here: http://www.volta.ie/films/silence
Silver Linings Playbook - I only saw this the other day so I need more time to process. Superb film though. Love the sober first half and completely absurd second half.
Your Sister’s Sister - Lynn Shelton delivers another mumblecore gem. Great cast, great tone.
The Hunt - Difficult to watch, and featuring a tremendous performance from Mads Mikkleson, this parable  about the nature of gossip is not without its flaws but deserves to be seen.
Safety Not Guaranteed - Mark Duplass again. He's superb. This brilliant sci-fi comedy romance indie drama won't stop traffic but it's highly enjoyable.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Under Your Bed Horrorcast

Check out my brief foray into the world of podcasting. Listen to my guest spot on Bren Murphy's fantastic Under Your Bed Horror Podcast.

I'm talking about my three favourite horror film; John Carpenter's Halloween, Roman Polanski's Repulsion and Rob Zombie's brilliant sequel The Devil's Rejects. It's never easy to pick only three favourite films so there's brief interludes of me gushing about Scream and Child's Play.

Apart from my guest appearance, have a rummage around the blog. It's only new but there's some interesting articles up there about the world of horror. And podcast #1 features talented Dublin writer Emmet Vincent.



Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene

Written and directed by: Sean Durkin

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Sarah Paulson, John Hawkes, Hugh Dancy

Rating: 9/10

For such fascinating subject matter there really aren’t very many good films made about cults. I know there have been countless TV movies about the Manson family, Jonestown and Waco but it is sadly rare to see films that treat the subject with any kind of psychological depth. Sean Durkin’s debut film Martha Marcy May Marlene is one such rarity.

Focussing very much NOT on the machinations of life in a cult, but instead on the devastating psychological residue after one girl’s daring escape from the commune, the film's insight into life in the commune comes in flashes. These short but very telling snippets merely highlight what she went through and some of the ploys used to keep the members loyal. Durkin chooses not to dwell on life in the cult which serves the overall arc nicely but leaves the audience gagging to spend more time inside the commune and in the presence of their absolutely terrifying leader Patrick, a typically charismatic leader dripping with menace.

Martha, the young escapee is taken in by her older sister. Their relationship is complicated and it is clear that this is not the warmest environment for Martha as she tries to rejoin society. Her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) lives in a large lake house; very modern and very cold, with her new husband Ted, a short-tempered workaholic. It is the polar opposite of beat-up, energetic but strangely inviting house on the commune. As Lucy genuinely tries to understand her sister and sympathise with her there is always a sense that she is weary of Martha’s negative presence in her otherwise pleasant life. There are tender moments between the two and some affection but the sisters just cannot connect.

The two worlds the film inhabits, the lake house and the commune, seem equally oppressive to Martha and it is with great sadness that the audience slowly accepts that maybe this girl won’t ever feel part of any society.

Much of the film focuses on Martha’s paranoia after escaping the cult. She fears Patrick and she knows he will go to any lengths to get her back. The line is often blurred between what is happening in reality and what Martha’s mind is creating out of fear. For some this may prove tiresome and that’s understandable but there’s something to be admired in Durkin’s ability to stay true to his vision for the film and not to fall into any soap opera theatrics, though the film is not without its nerve-shredding scenes.

Martha, a complex, not always likeable character, is played with remarkable power and haunting sympathy by Elizabeth Olsen, sister to the not even remotely haunting Olsen Twins. Cast just two weeks before the shoot, Elizabeth’s wholesome beauty and melancholy eyes are sure to remain niggling at you for a long time after the films ends. The same can be said for John Hawkes as Patrick, whose sharp sneer and intelligent eyes will surely stay in your nightmares for a long time after. Like his Oscar-nominated turn as Teardrop in Winter’s Bone, Hawkes is both brimming with menace and oozing unconventional charm. The hold he has over Martha (or Marcy May, as he chooses to name her) and her naïve acceptance of his love packs a powerful punch mainly due to the wealth of subtle energy behind both actors’ eyes. Despite the depth of Patrick’s cruelty and devastating emotional manipulation there’s something in the performance that makes him strangely alluring; just seductive enough to ensure the situation is believable. Two extremely strong characters and equally strong performances carry the film into much more interesting territory.

Martha Marcy May Marlene may not be a perfect film and many will be frustrated by its lack of conclusions of any sort but it is certainly unique and it’s dozy, dreamy air makes for haunting cinema.

 - Charlene Lydon

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Written by: Abi Morgan & Steve McQueen

Directed by: Steve McQueen

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Carey Mulligan

Rating: 7/10

Psychological afflictions don’t come much more interesting than sex addiction. It’s a sad, fascinating and deeply damaging disease and one which has been washed over by dozens of over-sexed fading movie stars who have touted it as the reason for their sudden stint in rehab. As we raise our eyebrows at these less than sympathetic characters the reality of the affliction becomes little more than a joke to most people. But of course sex addiction does exist and it’s ugly, deadening and painful to watch.

Director Steve McQueen, the king of “horribly stark” takes us on a journey over the course of a few days with Brandon, a handsome yuppie living it up in downtown Manhattan. He is also a sex addict. For a while it’s all piercing stares and visual examination of his clearly carefully sculpted body but it soon becomes very clear that for Brandon, sex isn’t sexy. It is creepy and it is cold and his hunger for it is a constant distraction. Things really kick off when his sister Sissy invades his life and invites herself on to his couch for a few days. Brandon’s world is cold, clinical and ordered and when a frazzled, damaged Sissy enters it, all hell breaks loose.

If Brandon is a closed book, Cissy is his polar opposite. She wears her naïve heart on her sleeve and it is horrible to see how broken she is but even worse to know (or guess, I suppose) that this is a situation she gets herself in time and time again. As we follow Brandon through his series of encounters and a particularly upsetting date with a woman who is smart, beautiful and who he really feels for we experience the depths of his problems and his despair.

Fassbender plays this role to perfection. His sculpted body and square jaw give him enough cheesy appeal to ensure we believe he would rarely find it difficult to attract women but his steely, cold eyes give him the mystique to buy into the fact that there’s more going on behind the eyes than we think.

The relationship between he and his sister is not explored fully but enough is shown and hinted at to presume that they did not have a conventional childhood. Both seem to understand each other in that level of familiarity that only exists between people who grew up together but they are also worlds apart in so many ways that they almost challenge each other to understand the alien worlds they each live.

Shame is a success on many levels. It is engaging and atmospheric and shows many of the ways in which sex addiction is unglamorous. However, I was slightly disappointed with the film’s ability to bring anything new to the table. As it ended I came away feeling that I’d seen all this before and at the end of the day for all its nudity and lingering focus on its subjects it didn’t feel very intimate and felt almost conventional. As engaging as it was, there was nothing to mull over when the credits rolled and no new perspective to justify the time we spent in Brandon’s company. Maybe I’ve been desensitised by four seasons of Californication, a subtler but no less unsettling exploration of sex addiction but I didn’t feel that Shame gave me any new material to consider on the subject.

Shame is enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing but ultimately unrewarding, I can’t help feeling like this is a somewhat shallow representation of a misunderstood and underestimated disease. That being said, there’s much to admire in the film and it’d definitely worth seeing on the big screen.

 - Charlene Lydon